One of the largest gatherings of Iraqi women since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime took place at the University of Babylon in Hilla, Iraq, from October 4-7, 2003. Over 150 women attended “The Heartland of Iraq Women's Conference” organized by the Women for a Free Iraq, with support from the American Islamic Congress and the Iraq Foundation, and sponsored by the US Agency of International Development's Office of Transition Initiatives and the Coalition Provisional
Authority (CPA) in South-Central Iraq.
The participants came from the five south-central provinces of Babil,Karbala,Najaf, Diwaniya and Wasit. They included women who are engaged in the establishment of women's centers and organizations in these provinces. The majority are professional women - doctors, lawyers, teachers and engineers. The conference also hosted visiting women's delegations
from Basra and Kurdistan.
The conference aimed to discuss the women's aspirations in the new Iraq, inspire them to pursue these aspirations, and identify strategies for doing so. The discussions were rich in ideas, proposals and debate as the women reviewed the legacy of Saddam
Hussein's dictatorship on their status in Iraq society, and expressed their hopes and fears for the future. There were notable differences between the delegations in the issues and priorities they identified, highlighting the diversity of Iraqi women.
The theme of the first two days was on the connection between democracy and women's rights. The last two days focused on developing plans for establishing women's centers in their communities and enlisting the participation of women in future elections.
The speakers included Iraqi women returning from exile who talked about their experiences living in democratic countries, and experts in constitutional law and elections. Representatives from the newly elected Baghdad City Advisory Council related their recent experiences with city government, and Kurdish women activists shared lessons learned over more than a decade of advocating for women's rights in Kurdish areas that were outside of Saddam's control.
On the last day, the participants had the opportunity to address Ambassador Paul L. Bremer, the CPA Administrator, who delivered the conference's closing remarks. He also brought with him a videotaped address by U.S. National Security
Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice.
The women presented Ambassador Bremer with a list of four major recommendations for the new Iraqi government. The conference participants were not selected as representatives of their communities, so these recommendations, as well as the other suggestions highlighted in the rest of this report, should not be taken as expressing the views of all the women of South-Central Iraq. They do offer, however, a glimpse of what is on the minds of women in today's Iraq.